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United States

Legislation still on right course

In the US, wind lobbyists have had some initial assurances that President Bill Clinton's controversial global warming strategy announced in October will at least contain an extension of the wind production tax credit (PTC), although for how many years is unclear. Clinton's plan drew howls of protest from European politicians when it was unveiled in October, but both the American and European wind energy associations have been more circumspect in their reaction, sounding a note of cautious optimism (Windpower Monthly, November 1997 and story page 36).

Randy Swisher of AWEA now says that it looks as if some extension of the PTC will specifically be included in the president's proposed budget, usually issued in January or February. His comments came as nine US Senators joined in introducing a bill to extend the credit for five years. The credit, which amounts to $0.015/kWh adjusted for inflation for the first ten years of a wind plant's life, was enacted as part of the Energy Policy Act of 1992. It is currently set to expire, and will not apply to plants built after mid 1999.

Without the PTC, there is likely to be a major slump in the already slow US wind market. "The 1999 deadline is already exerting a chilling effect on wind development," says AWEA's legislative director Jaime Steve. "It takes up to three years to obtain the necessary wind measurements and siting permissions to build a new wind power plant."

In more good news, Swisher also says the White House has confirmed that a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) will be included in its version of legislation to deregulate the electricity market. An RPS would oblige electricity distributors to include fixed amounts of electricity from renewable sources in their supply mix. Energy Secretary Federico Peña said on November 7 that the White House was in the "final stages" of the draft legislation. Peña said that competition could save US customers some $20 billion yearly, or 10% of the country's total electricity bill. He also said that rates for the poor and elderly should be protected.

Clinton's draft had been delayed for months and will still have to compete with several deregulation bills pending in Congress that are for the most part less favourable for renewables. Indeed, Swisher's comments came the same day that two senior Senators introduced a restructuring bill that would move up the date for requiring a competitive US electricity market by almost two and a half years.

"The RPS is the single most important effective policy for advancing commercially ready bulk power renewable energy sources," says AWEA's Steve. He cites a study by Tellus Institute indicating that the cost of an RPS requiring one tenth of all generation to be from renewables by 2010 would be only some $1.30 monthly for the average US customer.

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